Saturday, 29 April 2017

raleigh park, reading, rd laing, aaron esterson

Spring in Raleigh Park, which I walk through each morning - unless I have an early meeting.

It's been nine months since the 18 bus was axed and I've been doing this walk - see post of Saturday 29th October 2016 and the earlier ones it links to, of 20th and 23rd July 2016. As I come through the gate from the road and see this view, my heart gladdens.

The other morning, I was listening to the World Service, just after getting up at 4.30, and it was a programme about the revolutionary psychiatrist RD Laing - part of the brilliant Witness series (also available as podcasts). I'd never read Laing that I could remember but when they were talking about his book Sanity, Madness and the Family things sounded so familiar I thought I must have read this one. Only later did it dawn on me that the book I'd read was The Leaves of Spring by Aaaron Esterson, the earlier book's co-author. The Leaves of Spring is a much more detailed account of one of the family case studies featured in Sanity, Madness and the Family - that of Sarah Danzig, a schizophrenic patient in her early twenties.

I downloaded an ebook of Sanity, Madness and the Family to my phone and have been reading it on the bus to and from work. It's not been an easy experience, although it has helped me to make deeper sense of quite a lot of things that happened in the early nineties. When I was trying to break free of the distressing situation at home and to understand it, I came across Esterson's book on the shelves outside the second-hand bookshop that used to be in the old Cantay warehouse on Park End street. I remember devouring it. It promised to make so much sense to me then - and yet when I tried to apply what I had learnt to my own experiences I met with masses of barriers. I could see all the gaslighting, the bullying, the switches between cruelty and over-compensating love. But this only got me so far because there were no secrets in the family, as far as I could tell, to help explain its behaviours.

What happened in 1996 and since revealed all the things that were being concealed and now, from my current perspective, reading about Sarah and the other people featured in the case studies helps to explain a lot. I am struck now, for instance, by Sarah's mother shouting at her for thinking too much and for constantly reading the Bible. ('No matter how her mother shouted at her she would not stop "thinking"...') I remember being shouted at for reading 'bloody books'* - not the Bible but certainly ones that were fulfilling the same function for me as the Bible did for Sarah. As Laing and Esterson say of her reading of the Bible: 'The fact that she read the Bible in an effort to throw light on her present experience was completely incomprehensible to this family.'

I'm still reading in order to understand. I am fascinated, comforted and horrified by this week's reading. But above all I am thankful that such books were written and that reading is such a valuable forum for learning, debate and personal growth.

* I think I'm right in saying that John Cowper Powys also referred at some point to parents getting angry when a child loved reading. I think it must partly be about the child doing something that the parent simply can't relate to. Partly to do with the child doing something on their own that doesn't include the parent. And in some cases, partly to do with the fact that reading circumvents all the attempts to stop the child coming into contact with different ideas (and people) outside the family - ones that are contrary to the orthodoxy of the family; a means of escape and of perspective.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

first week, spin, sea salt, chill north-east wind

Oxford First Week - the spin of term has started!

Meanwhile, sea salt awaited balsamic vinegar and asparagus last night.

Not that early summer food is all that appropriate - an astonishingly chill wind is blowing from the north-east, all of a sudden. Heating's on, log fire's burning in the grate.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

late lunch, hollybush witney, ash leaves against sunlight

Excellent late lunch at the Hollybush in Witney after working in Oxford yesterday.

Took this photo of young ash leaves against sunlight in Standlake from the bus on the way home.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

oxford, footpath revisited, gail's bakery, americano, clematis and graffiti

Working in Oxford today.

Walked a footpath - from the Fishes in North Hinksey to Osney trading estate - that I hadn't been down for what, seventeen years.

You don't actually reach the trading estate but veer off before the sub-station along the stream that flows under the bridge that I wrote a poem about the other week.

The walk is leafy and secret and I loved the shadows of the nettles on the bridge just below the pub.

Later, nearing Gail's Bakery in Little Clarendon Street and an Americano, the clematis and other climbing plants were out along the stretch of the Oxford canal opposite where the old Lucy's iron works once stood. There are flats on that site now. I don't know who did the planting but the effect of flowers and graffiti is striking. Though I imagine the aim is that the plants will eventually cover the images.

A mad week at work, catching up after the Easter break. Roll on 4 pm!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

jack-by-the-hedge, unexpected droplets of rain

Sculpted Jack-by-the-hedge, near Osney, on my walk to work this morning. A few completely unexpected droplets of rain had freshened everything up for a minute or two before disappearing.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

points of view


You reverse your tiny
Pale blue car
Into what seems a
Tinier space

In a trice.

My gaze forced by
The speed and grace
Of the movement
Away from the black and white globe
Bobbing - in oil? -
Sealed in its own
Fixed firmly to the windscreen
With the tip of an arrow.

The compartment heaves and settles
As your huge shoulders swivel back round.
A gentle smile as you switch off the ignition
With panache.


Your wife leaves a message on
Our answerphone,
Which I pick up
From a payphone in Galloway.

My mother also phones,
Telling me you have gone
'Most peculiar',
That I should have nothing more
To do with you.
I refuse her request because
In the summer
The truth
Had begun
To come out.

I will hold firm,
Over the coming years,
To you,
Refusing to be turned against you.
At expense to myself.

The globe turns

That Summer

The lawyer's office.
I am there because of a will.
Not that I have much.

I had wanted to make my wishes
Clear about who my things should
Go to
If I should die -
My wife.

Since we got married,
Mum has been increasingly

I no longer trusted her
To do the right thing,
And wanted to get it down
In black and white.

A routine question
About the trusts
Has revealed they
Have been

You are not here
But in Greece -
On holiday, I think.
You, the other trustee.

The lawyer inadvertently presses a button,
Is he recording something?
Perhaps not...

At lunchtime, I am sitting on the edge
Of that strange dais that used to be outside the
New Bodleian.
I am eating a sandwich,
Having walked in the Parks,
My mind boiling,
Barely able to understand
What I have learnt.
I can't have got it right, surely?

That nice lawyer
I have known for years,
Mum and Dad...

Your right-hand man and his young family
Happen to pass.
A long way from home.
I recognise him from one of your parties.
He is visiting a museum,
Or some such.
When I tell him I am homeless,
He is bafflingly sympathetic.
I explain that it is library closed-week.
He laughs but seems even more
Baffled than

That Autumn

You fly to Australia
For a conference.
Behind my back,
You attempt to market a family
Using your contacts and approaching,
Amongst others,
A wealthy family of
Chicken farmers.
You couldn't make it up.

You are run ragged
By my urgent, phoning, parents -
Your wife thought that what you were doing was
Unethical, anyway,
She later tells me.
You all

When you tell me what happened,
I wonder.
I recall Mum, in September,
Sitting me down and telling me that
Christopher has tried to 'put someone in'
And that if 'the person' isn't careful,
They'll take out an injunction
She is talking to a child,
Her thickening voice,
Churchillian, grave.
I want to laugh.
I can't believe it, I say.
I honestly can't.
Her behaviour is more intense
Lately - but not untypical.
There's no use trying to make
Sense of it.
She will explain, when she's ready,
When there have been more rows with friends,
More never-speak-agains.
She never does explain,
It is years before I fully understand.
Maybe I still don't
But I think it has to do
With why everything in Australia was done
Behind my back.

The globe turns

Some weeks after the lawyer's office,
I tell my father that I want to speak about
The trusts.
'The tru-husts!' His voice rises octaves.
'Why do you keep going on about the trusts?'
I cannot remember when we last spoke
The trusts.

Behind my back.

That September, after Mum has
Sabotaged a planned reunion lunch
At the school both Dad and I
My father - again on the phone -
'I'm so sorry, Francis, so sorry.'
He sounds exhausted,
So weary.
He reassures me that everything will be put right;
It won't be long.

Behind my back.

When the Australian
Plan hits the fan -
And everyone's spitting feathers
(Couldn't make it up),
I realise what he meant.

Behind my back.

The globe turns


Only it doesn't.
This word-globe,
That was really a compass.
Sometimes it's stuck in its see-through ball
Like the liquid's treacle.
Other times, the compass
Spins like topsy.


By now I haven't seen my parents
For over a year.
I feel stronger.
I've composed an essay
In an attempt to write out my
Understanding of what's
Been going on.
I discovered that the auction
Prices for the artist of the painting
That is supposed to save our family's fortune
Has been flat-lining at about
A sixteenth of the value that Mum boasts about -
And taunts people with -
Since 1984.
Why didn't anyone else check that?

Once, it did rise meteorically
But then the two old billionaires who
Duelled over this kind of thing,
Driving the market, died
Or grew senile,
And the party was over.
Though not, sadly,
For my mum.

I go to a new lawyer,
Who, after I explain,
Swivels his index fingers
So they point at each other
And he makes a Mr Bean face.
Everyone blames the other
In this kind of situation.

You don't blame anyone, though,
Just don't really want to get involved.
You say Mum sees you as 'the enemy',
In psychological terms,
And you'd best not do anything.
Leave it all to the other trustee.

I had this idea that you would be like
A wise uncle and sort everything out.

I hoped you would want to
Help Mum.
You have the specialist knowledge.
You were always close to her.

I think of what has happened
Not legalistically,
Not threateningly,
But in terms of humanity;
A family story.

I understand that you have your own disappointments,
Your own family chaos
To contend with.

But even so, I feel betrayed.


Years later, after a modest resolution
And the revelation about a million-pound
Debt (thankfully not
My liability),
You tell me over lunch that when
Mum and Dad asked you to be a
They told you it was
Just a formality.

How much would those
Be worth now?
The same as the

A million quid,
Just a formality.
Easy come,
Easy go.

What a mess,
Says your wife.

I have asked you
To lunch
To try to put
The past
Behind us.

You were the inspiration
For my academic career.
Also, a victim
Of the same force of nature
As me.
Despite it all,
I feel I owe you.
You know quite clearly why
I have invited you.

Once I have paid the bill,
I ask you to find out an answer
To a simple question
That has been puzzling me,
And you agree.
We part on what seem good terms.

I never hear from you again.
Until I phone to tell you
Mum is dead.
I have not heard from you since.

I don't judge you
Harshly, now.
I know from what you said that
You regretted what happened.
I imagine you do not know
What to say.
It's being made to
Look so ridiculous.
I've come across it when talking
To others who dealt with
Mum and Dad.
A shame at being so stupid.
For some, it meant

I told the trustee in
That Mum and Dad had a gift
For making people
Act against
Their better judgement.

A folie à deux, you called it.

Mum was better after Dad
More sociable.
I don't think she believed
Her conspiracy theories any longer.
In a way,
She seemed to be having
A whale of a time!
In the Tesco car park
She told me she'd get it
All back.
We'd have an estate
And my wife's mum could
Live in a cottage there.
Mum would have the big house,
Of course.

The globe turns

Families, eh!

Blood is thicker
Than water.

There is still love in my heart,

Monday, 17 April 2017

la theme, dibber, earlier, logic of the season, wider range

An appropriately Latin American theme emerging on the day the spuds were planted and the potato dibber had its annual outing.

Much earlier than last year - hope this is wise. Although I am going with the logic of the season. A wider range this year: Maris Peer, Duke of York, Nicola, Desiree, Blue Danube and Shetland Black.